Barack Obama's Visit to Israel Fails To Ignite Faded Peace Hopes — On Either Side

Israelis and Palestinians United in Bleak Outlook

An Eternity Ago: Then-candidate Barack Obama meets with Israeli Pinhas Amar to see damage from Palestinian rockets in his home in Sderot. Amar was impressed with Obama, but has become disillusioned in the four years since.
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An Eternity Ago: Then-candidate Barack Obama meets with Israeli Pinhas Amar to see damage from Palestinian rockets in his home in Sderot. Amar was impressed with Obama, but has become disillusioned in the four years since.

By Reuters

Published March 14, 2013.
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In the market of Gaza’s Beach refugee camp, Baha al-Haddad, 45, a public servant, predicted nothing would come of Obama’s visit. “He will make another speech and make promises but it will only be words without fulfilment,” he said.

In November last year, days after Obama’s election to a second term, Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, fought an eight-day war in which some 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.

Gaza was pummelled by air, land and sea while rockets exploded in Israeli towns, including Sderot, just across the border from the enclave.

The United States funds Israel’s missile interceptor system, Iron Dome, which blew up many of the incoming rockets. Nevertheless, some Sderot residents do not believe Obama has their best interests at heart.

“It would be disastrous without Iron Dome,” said Yaffa Malka, 49, a hairdresser who has lived in Sderot her entire life. “But all he (Obama) cares about is talking about a Palestinian state and not how to stop Hamas arming itself.”

WEST BANK

In the occupied West Bank, mistrust of Obama is one of the only things Palestinians and Israeli settlers share.

“I don’t think Obama’s a player. I don’t think he’s proved to be effective on either side really, not on the Arab side and not on the Jewish side and no one really cares what he has to say,” said Aliza Herbst, 60, a yoga teacher and former settler spokeswoman.

In the past year, the White House has voiced condemnation of Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, which U.S. presidents have described for decades as an obstacle to peace.

“I didn’t know how bad he would be for Israel,” Herbst said, sitting in her sunny garden in Ofra settlement, where she has been living for the past 31 years. “He’s probably one of the most anti-Israel presidents, certainly in my lifetime and maybe in the history of the United States.”

The Obama administration rejects the suggestion that he is less supportive of Israel than previous U.S. presidents, and points to strong cooperation with Israel on security matters.

Meanwhile, despite failing to win over many Israelis, Obama also lost support among Palestinians last year when he opposed a successful Palestinian bid for recognition as a de facto state by the U.N. Generally Assembly.

In the West Bank town of Tubas, Loai Dawwas, a 41-year-old pharmacist, said Obama’s rejection of the U.N. recognition bid quashed Palestinian faith in him.

“He is a man of speeches like the speech he had gave in Cairo, but what did he implement of those promises? Nothing. And he will not do anything useful for us. America is good for Israel only,” Dawwas said.

Mohammad Zaid, a grocer in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, also predicted Obama’s visit would lead nowhere, even as change is sweeping through other countries in the region.

“The Arab world is a mess. Look at Libya, Syria, Egypt. Palestine is an easier issue than all that. But we don’t think Obama is going to change anything,” Zaid said.


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